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‘(1) The Education and Inspections Act 2006 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 59 (meaning of “maintained school” and “eligible for intervention”), in subsection (2), at the appropriate place insert—
“section 60B (Schools where pupils do not fulfil their potential)”
(3) After section 60A insert—
“60B Schools where pupils do not fulfil their potential
(1) A school where pupils do not fulfil their potential is one where the performance of pupils in aggregate on leaving is not as high as might be expected from their performance on entry to the school.
(2) A maintained school or an Academy school is by virtue of this section eligible for intervention if the governing body or proprietor of the school—
(a) have been notified that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, in consultation with the local authority, considers the school to be one where pupils in aggregate do not fulfil their potential, and
(b) have not subsequently been notified that the Chief Inspector no longer considers the school to be one where pupils do not fulfil their potential.
(3) In determining whether a school should be notified, the Chief Inspector will consider the following in consultation with the local authority and, in the case of an Academy school, the person with whom the Secretary of State has made Academy Arrangements—
(a) the availability of qualified teachers in the area of the local authority;
(b) the number of pupils on roll and the unreliability of drawing conclusions about aggregated pupil performance when the number of pupils is small;
(c) the age range of pupils in attendance at the school;
(d) the handling of data about pupils with special educational needs or a disability;
(e) information about the socio-economic characteristics of pupils on roll and the area in which the school is situated;
(f) the balance of boys and girls in the school.
(4) If an Academy school is found to be eligible for intervention under this section, then the school is to be treated as a maintained school for the purposes sections 63 to 69, and the governing body is the proprietor of the Academy school. For the avoidance of doubt, an intervention under sections 63 to 69 takes precedence over any provision of the Academy arrangements made between the Secretary of State and the proprietor.
(5) The Secretary of State must not make an Academy Order under section 4 (Academy orders) of the Academies Act 2010 for a maintained school which has been notified that it is a school where pupils do not fulfil their potential under this section.””
This new clause updates the concept of coasting schools; it covers all publicly provided schools where pupils do not fulfil their potential and introduces a local professional assessment of factors that can only be assessed with local knowledge.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement—
(a) special measures are required to be taken in relation to the school, or
(b) the school requires significant improvement the following actions will be taken.
(2) The Regional Schools Commissioner must consult with the local authority, any trustees or persons representing foundations associated with the school and, in the case of an academy school, the person with whom the Secretary of State has made Academy arrangements, about the school’s governance arrangements.
(3) If the school is a local authority maintained school, then the Regional Schools Commissioner may determine that section 5 (consultation about conversion) applies.
(4) If the school is an Academy school, then the Regional Schools Commissioner may consult with the Secretary of State about whether or not to terminate the school’s academy arrangements with a view to the school being established as a local authority maintained school or by the Secretary of State making Academy arrangements with another person.
(5) For the purpose of this Act, the Regional Schools Commissioner is an official appointed by the Secretary of State, except in the area of a combined authority, and if so requested by the combined authority or mayor, the Regional Schools Commissioner is a person appointed by the combined authority or mayor under arrangements made under Part 6 (Economic Prosperity Boards and Combined Authorities) of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 as amended by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016.”
Schools which receive an inadequate Ofsted judgement may require changes to their governance arrangements. The new clause addresses weaknesses in the Bill by inserting a new clause 7 which removes the assumption that there is only one form of governance suitable for such schools by requiring a local discussion about what is best for such a school and the area the school serves.
New clause 3—Schools causing concern: involvement of parent—
‘(1) The Education and Inspections Act 2006 is amended as follows:
(2) After section 59 insert—
“59A Duties of Secretary of State, local authorities, and proprietors to parents when a school is eligible for intervention
When a school is eligible for intervention, the Secretary of State, the local authority, school governing body and proprietor must exercise their functions with a view to involving parents of registered pupils in decisions relating to the school under this Part and the Academies Act 2010.”
(3) In section 59 (Meaning of “maintained school” and “eligible for intervention”)—
(a) in subsection (1) after (c) insert—
“() an Academy school”
(b) after subsection (2) insert—
“(3) In this Part, references to the governing body of an Academy school are to be read as references to the proprietor of an Academy school.
(4) If an Academy school is found to be eligible for intervention under this Part, then the school is to be treated as a maintained school for the purposes sections 63 to 69, and the governing body is the proprietor of the Academy school. For the avoidance of doubt, an intervention under sections 63 to 69 takes precedence over any provision of the Academy arrangements made between the Secretary of State and the proprietor.”
(4) In section 60 (Performance standards and safety warning notice) in subsection (6) at end insert—
“(e) the parents of registered pupils”
(5) In section 60A (Teachers’ pay and conditions warning notice) in subsection (6) at end insert—
“(c) the parents of registered pupils”
This new clause requires parents be involved in decisions about the future of their children’s schools.
New clause 4—Consultation with school community about identity of Academy sponsor—
After section 5A of the Academies Act 2010 insert—
“Consultation with school community about identity of Academy sponsor
‘(1) This section applies where an Academy order under section 4(1)(a) or (1)(b) has effect in respect of a maintained school.
(2) Before entering into Academy arrangements in relation to the school the Secretary of State must consult the following about the identity of the person with whom the arrangements are to be entered into—
(a) the school’s governing body;
(b) the local authority;
(c) the Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Schools;
(d) parents of registered pupils at the school;
(e) the teaching and other staff of the school, and
(f) any other such persons as he thinks appropriate.
(3) As part of the consultation, the Secretary of State must publish all correspondence held by her relating to her choice of the proposed Academy sponsor.”
The new clause would require consultation with a school’s community before a decision on the Secretary of State’s preferred choice of a school’s sponsor is made. This new clause also requires publication of full information about the reasons for the Secretary of State’s choice.
New clause 5—Inspection of Academy sponsors—
Before section 9 of the Academies Act 2010, insert—
“8A Inspection of Academy sponsors
(1) The Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills may inspect the proprietor of an Academy school in the performance of the proprietor’s functions under the Education Acts, the Academy agreement entered into by the proprietor, and any ancillary functions.
(2) When requested to do so by the Secretary of State, the Chief Inspector must conduct an inspection under this section in relation to the proprietor specified in the request.
(3) Such a request may specify particular matters which the Chief Inspector must inspect.
(4) Ancillary functions shall include any function that may be carried on by a local authority.
(5) Before entering into Academy arrangements in relation to a school to which an Academy order under section 4(1)(a) or (1)(b) has had effect with an Academy proprietor with whom the Secretary of State has existing Academy arrangements in relation to one or more other schools, he must receive a report from the Chief Inspector on the overall performance of the proprietor in performing their functions.”
The new clause would make provision for the bodies which run Academy schools to be inspected. This new clause also requires Ofsted to report on the performance of an Academy chain before the Secretary of State uses his powers to make an Academy order.
New clause 6—Information on performance of academy proprietors—
‘(1) The Academies Act 2010 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 11(1)(b) of the Academies Act 2010 insert—
“(c) the performance of Academy Proprietors and academy chains in regards to their management of academy schools, including the impact of this management on educational performance of such schools.””
Section 11 of the Academies Act 2010 requires the Secretary of State to prepare and publish an annual report on academy arrangements and on the performance of academies. The new clause aims to require the report to cover the performance of academy proprietors and academy chains in regards to their management of academy schools.
New clause 7—Performance of academy proprietors—
‘(1) When deciding whether to make an academy order in relation to a particular school, the Secretary of State shall have regard to any information on the proposed academy proprietor and, if applicable, the academy chain to which it belongs, which has been gathered—
(a) in order to prepare reports under subsection (1) of the Academies Act 2010, and
(b) in the course of any Ofsted inspection of any school run by the proposed Academy proprietor or of the academy chain to which it belongs.
(2) The Secretary of State shall only appoint an academy proprietor for a new academy if the proprietor, and if applicable, the chain to which it belongs, has a proven record of success in improving schools which are comparable to the school to which the proposal relates.
(3) The Secretary of State shall by regulations define “proven record of success”.”
The new clause would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the information about an academy proprietor and its relevant academy chain before appointing it as an academy proprietor for a new academy.
New clause 8—Inspection of academy chains in England—
‘(1) The Education and Inspections Act 2006 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 136 insert—
“136A Inspection of academy chains in England
(1) The Chief Inspector may inspect the overall performance by an academy chain in England.
(2) The Secretary of State may require the Chief Inspector to conduct an inspection in relation to a particular academy chain.
(3) When requiring an inspection under subsection 2, the Secretary of State may specify matters which the Chief Inspector must inspect.
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations define an “academy chain”.
(5) Regulations under subsection 4 may set out the activities of academy chains that may be subject to inspection under this section.”
(3) In section 137(2)(a), after “authority”, insert “or academy chain”.
(4) In section 137(3), after “authority”, insert “or academy chain”.
(5) In section 137(4), after “authority”, insert “or academy chain”.
(6) In section 137(5), after “authority”, insert “or academy chain”.”
This new clause would permit the Chief Inspector of Ofsted to inspect academy chains, and give the power to the Secretary of State to order such inspections. It would also entitle academy chains to receive the report following an inspection, and require them to prepare a written statement setting out the action they will take in light of the report.
New clause 9—Right of appeal against an academy order—
After section 5 of the Academies Act 2010 insert—
“5A Right of appeal against an academy order
(1) An academy order appeal committee shall be established to hear appeals against decisions of the Secretary of State to make an academy order in a particular case.
(2) The following persons shall have the right to appeal to the academy order appeal committee:
(a) parents of children at the school, and
(b) staff of the school.
(3) The Secretary of State shall by regulations define the powers and remit of the academy order appeal committee.”.”
This new clause would provide for a right of appeal against an academy order.
Amendment 1, page 1, line 1, leave out clause 1.
Clause 1 to be replaced with new clause (Schools where people do not fulfil potential).
Amendment 12, page 1, line 1, leave out clause 1.
This amendment would remove the clause that establishes that “coasting” schools shall be eligible for intervention.
Amendment 8, page 1, line 16, clause 1, at end insert—
‘(3) The governing body must inform the parents of registered pupils that the school has been notified that it is coasting.”
The amendment extends the duty to inform parents to those whose children attend the new category of coasting school.
Amendment 13, page 2, clause 2, leave out line 42.
This amendment would retain the right of a governing body of a school to make representations to the Chief Inspector at Ofsted in response to a warning notice, and the obligation of the Chief Inspector to consider such representations and give to the governing body and the local authority notice of his decision whether or not to confirm the warning notice.
Amendment 2, page 6, line 2, leave out clause 7.
Clause 7 to be replaced with new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).
Amendment 14, page 6, line 2, leave out clause 7.
This amendment would remove the duty on the Secretary of State to make an academy order where a school is eligible for intervention because it requires significant improvement or it requires special measures.
Amendment 11, page 6, line 8, clause 7, at end insert—
‘(A2) If requested by a relevant—
(a) local education authority, or
(b) local admission forum,
The Secretary of State may include in such an order provision for the school to adopt selective admission arrangements such as would fall under section 104(2) and sections 105 to 109 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (“SSFA 1998”).
(A3) Section 104(1) of SSFA 1998 is amended as follows—
For subsection (1), substitute “If requested by a local education authority or local admission forum, the Secretary of State may by order permit a school to adopt selective admission arrangements falling under subsection (2) and sections 105 to 109.”
This amendment would allow the Secretary of State to provide for new academies established under this part of the bill to have selective admissions arrangements but only in circumstances where a local education authority or local admissions forum had requested it.
Amendment 15, page 6, line 16, clause 8, after “consult”, insert
“parents of children at the school, staff of the school and”.
This amendment would ensure that parents and staff of the school are consulted before a school is converted into an academy.
Amendment 16, page 6, line 16, clause 8, after “such”, insert “other”
This amendment is consequential to amendment 15.
Amendment 9, page 6, clause 8, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert—
‘(3) If an Academy order under section 4(A1) or (1)(b) has effect in respect of the school, the Secretary of State must convene a meeting of parents of registered pupils to explain the implications for the school being subject to such an order and take account of the views of parents in respect of the future governance of the school.”
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to convene a meeting of parents where the Secretary of State determines, or is required to, force Academisation.
Amendment 3, page 6, line 19, clause 8, leave out “4(A1) or”
A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).
Amendment 4, page 6, line 26, leave out clause 9.
A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).
Amendment 10, page 6, line 39, clause 9, at end insert—
“(d) the parents of registered pupils”
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult parents on the identity of an Academy sponsor where forced Academisation is proposed.
Amendment 17, page 6, line 39, clause 9, at end insert—
“(d) the parents of children of the school,
(e) the staff of the school.”
This amendment would require parents and school staff to be consulted about the identity of an academy sponsor prior to academy arrangements being entered into.
Amendment 18, page 7, line 16, leave out clause 10.
This amendment would remove the clause that provides that where a school is the subject of an Academy Order, the governing body and its relevant local authority must facilitate the school’s conversion into an academy.
Amendment 5, page 7, line 20, Clause 10, leave out “4(A1) or”
A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).
Amendment 6, page 7, line 33, clause 11, leave out “4(A1) or”.
A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).
Amendment 7, page 8, line 5, clause 12, leave out “4(A1) or”.
A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).
I apologise in advance for my slightly croaky voice.
It is good to return to the Bill, which we considered in Committee before the summer recess. We tabled more than 80 amendments, none of which was passed, despite the cogency of our arguments and the excellent drafting. We therefore find ourselves having to submit further new clauses and amendments on Report, given our continued view that the Bill is badly drafted and ill thought through.
Before I deal with the details of new clause 1, let me take this opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend Lucy Powell to her new position. We have worked together before, and I look forward to her term of office first as shadow Secretary of State and then, in the not-too-distant future, as Secretary of State. She is the fifth Labour Secretary of State or shadow Secretary of State for Education under whom I have served, in government and in opposition.
I have been accused of coasting. We shall come to that later. Either I am doing something very right or I am doing something very wrong; it is hard to work out which. Perhaps the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate is right. But, like the Schools Minister, I am still here after all these years. “Still Crazy After All These Years” was, I think, a song by Paul Simon. Anyway, we are still here, the two of us, facing each other across the Dispatch Box.
Let me pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Tristram Hunt. I am glad to see that another former shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, is sitting next to him: it is a wonderful reunion. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central has decided to take a sabbatical from Front-Bench politics, I really enjoyed working with him. I wish him well, and thank him for the hard work and passion that he brought to his role. I look forward to reading the book which I am sure will form one of the fruits of his new-found free time. If it is any sort of political memoir, I do not care what it says as long as I am in it.
New clause 1 deals with
“Schools where pupils do not fulfil potential”, and should be read in conjunction with amendment 1, which proposes to leave out clause 1. The new clause replaces clause 1, which is entitled “Coasting schools”. The House will recall that when the original clause 1 was drafted, the Government were unable to provide a definition of “coasting schools”, even on Second Reading. In Committee, we were given some draft regulations which made it clear that what the Government had in mind was a purely data-driven exercise.
We believe there is a need to do something about schools that are doing well superficially but are failing to fulfil the potential of their pupils, hence our new clause. In government—my memory is long enough for me to remember what we did in government, as is clear from what I said earlier—we wanted local authorities to identify coasting schools whose intake did not fulfil earlier promise, and whose pupils lost momentum and failed to make progress. That often applies to pupils with special educational needs, or children who get left behind and may become disengaged from their education, but it is equally applicable to able pupils who are not stretched or challenged enough. We wanted coasting schools to benefit from the support of other schools and leaders forming trusts and federations to formalise the benefits of collaborative learning.
I rise to support my hon. Friend’s argument. One of the best achievements of the previous Government was the London challenge, and also the black country and Manchester challenges. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the decision of the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, and his cabinet member, Nick Small, to establish a Liverpool challenge precisely to address some of these issues of standards in our schools?
I join my hon. Friend in welcoming that, and of course he is too modest to outline his own part in the London challenge. I am sure the fact that Liverpool is the part of the country he represents has been influential in the idea being taken up so readily there. I congratulate him and the mayor on that initiative.
We recognise the concern to which I referred, but we are not at all convinced that the way the Government are dealing with this issue in the Bill is the best way forward. They are attempting to legislate on coasting schools in the Bill and then set up regulations that rigidly seek to define them in a way that produces significant anomalies and a whole new way of judging schools outside of Ofsted. By cutting out Ofsted, they are muddying the waters considerably.
The concept of coasting schools has been around for quite a while. It was first used formally by the last Labour Government in 2008 in “Gaining Ground: improving progress in coasting secondary schools”, in which we said:
“Coasting schools are schools whose intake does not fulfil their earlier promise and who could achieve more, where pupils are coming into the school having done well in primary school, then losing momentum and failing to make progress.”
So it is a useful concept, but the Government’s clumsy attempts to translate that directly into legislation has made the term toxic in the space of a few months. Our new clause goes back to the original definition of pupils not fulfilling potential so as not to confuse it with the Government’s rigid data-driven approach.
We accept that schools that need improvement might not be picked up in an Ofsted inspection. Every framework cannot meet every eventuality, but the answer is not to use the definition as proposed by the Government based on a crude formula from raw pupil data. A much better approach is one that involves both the professional judgments of Ofsted and the local authority—or the academy trust, because why should academies escape this measure? Our new clause would create a new section 60B in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and put into its new subsection (1) a definition of a school
“where pupils do not fulfil their potential” and in subsection (2) make it clear that a school has to be notified following a professional consideration between Ofsted and those with local knowledge. This would apply to both a local authority-maintained school and an academy.
In our proposed new subsection (3) we outline the sorts of issues that should be considered prior to that notification, including “the availability of…teachers”.
In other words, schools should not be penalised because the Government have mismanaged the supply of qualified teachers, particularly mathematics teachers, which could affect, for example, EBacc performance in a school. I will return to the question of teacher supply in a moment.
Secondly, while a comparison of pupil progress statistics is important, it must take account of the size of the school and standard errors, and not crudely interpret and apply data. Thirdly, age range is important, especially where there is not a standardised assessment of performance on entry to the school. For example, some areas have middle schools. Fourthly, there is the question of special educational needs. A professional assessment should be made of the progress of pupils with SENs and disabilities. Fifthly, a school may be recruiting pupils from a more advantaged area where, for example, there is the widespread use of private tuition, which can be impossible to discern from raw data. Education Datalab and others have noted that it is virtually impossible for a grammar school to be coasting under the Government’s initial floor standards in the draft regulations.
Gender is important, too. For example, under- achievement of girls in STEM subjects needs to be identified and acted upon, rather than lost in raw statistics.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the major challenges in respect of coasting academy schools for this Bill is a massive overdependence on the role of regional schools commissioners? In my constituency and across the west midlands, there simply is not the capacity of regional school commissioners and their staff to deal with underperforming and coasting academy schools, and what we have here in this Bill is once again an over-concentration on the maintained sector while not doing enough for children in underperforming academy schools.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There seems in the Department to be an in-built bias against facing up to failure in academy schools while exaggerating problems when the school is a maintained school. All we are calling for is a level playing field. We are just saying that every child should have the right to be taught in a good school, whatever that school is, and the Government should not be a propaganda department for a particular type of school structure.
I can see Mrs Drummond leaning forward. Does she wish to intervene?
The hon. Lady is just very enthusiastic and very keen. I appreciate the attention she is paying to what I am saying.
Our proposed new subsection (4) treats maintained schools and academy schools equally as far as intervention is concerned, which picks up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central. It is right that the same forms of intervention can be used for both types of school—for example, working with an outstanding school or working with a school improvement provider or replacing the governing body with an interim executive board.
Subsection (5) prevents the Secretary of State from making a forced academy order simply on the basis that a school has been notified that its pupils are not reaching their full potential. This should be about taking the right steps for a school, not arbitrary academy targets.
“the real crisis in education is in teacher recruitment and the quality of headteachers” and that the Secretary of State’s proposals and speech
“have absolutely nothing to say about that.”—[Hansard, 22 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 642.]
My hon. Friend was absolutely right. This is the real crisis and that is why we are addressing it. We cannot judge a school if it is not able to recruit the right teachers because of a failure of Government policy in relation to teacher supply.
Teacher recruitment has been falling since 2010. Some 10% of teacher training places remain unfilled this year, and one in 10 teachers left the profession last year, the highest rate in a decade. An extra 800,000 students will have entered England’s secondary programme by the next decade. It is predicted there will be a 7% shortfall in teacher training recruitment for next September, the third shortfall in a row. Also, Department for Education published statistics show that for the secondary programme 91% of the target, or 12,943 student teachers, were recruited; that is a shortfall of 2,278 teacher trainees against the target for this term.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures are actually worse than that because they are being masked? School Direct is failing to meet anywhere near its targets in subjects such as mathematics and physics and is making up the numbers in non-shortage areas.
My hon. Friend is right. We only have to speak to headteachers to know the difficulty of recruiting in those subject areas. Again, the Government have failed to face up to this crisis and schools cannot be judged if they cannot recruit the teachers because of a failure of Government policy. According to Professor John Howson, a shortage of more than 6,000 teachers has built up in the past three years. A report from London Councils says there is a need for 113,000 extra school places in the capital in the next five years.
I could go on and on, but I will not detain the House for too long with those statistics. It would, however, be interesting to hear from the Minister in his reply about what the Government are doing to meet this crisis in teacher training recruitment and retention, because that is the real issue out there and they are not addressing it adequately.
That is why we have made teacher supply one of the factors in judging how a school is performing under new clause 1. Ignoring teacher supply as a factor in influencing whether a school is doing well enough in helping its pupils to reach their potential is simply burying one’s head in the educational sand. That is exactly what the Secretary of State is doing in the Bill, and in her wider role. She remains obsessed by her pet projects of free schools and forced academisation, and is diverting ever more precious and scarce resources in the Department to them while failing to address the mounting crisis in teacher training, recruitment and retention. She cannot say that she has not been warned about this.
As always, my hon. Friend is making a persuasive case. Is not the situation even starker than that? Schools are facing a 10% cut to their budgets over the course of this Parliament, yet funds are being allocated to opening free schools in areas where they are not needed. Courses for young people are being cut away and pupils’ choices are being eliminated in order to fund those free schools.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we project the figures over the course of this Parliament, the position is even starker, especially when combined with the reality of the cuts to 16-to-19 education, which even Conservative Back Benchers are now complaining about because of their impact on sixth forms—
Indeed. I recently participated in an interesting Adjournment debate on this matter with Conservative Members. We know that a funding crisis is building up as we speak, and alongside the problems with teacher training and supply, these are creating a perfect storm. There are going to be real problems over the course of this Parliament, and I put on record that we are pointing that out and that the Government should be acting more urgently to deal with the problems that are going to emerge.
New clause 1 would mean that schools could not be blamed for problems that had been initiated by policies of the Secretary of State for Education that had led to a lack of teacher supply in their area. Teacher supply would be a reasonable factor to take into account, rather than simply looking at raw data that tell us nothing about the struggle that a school might be having to recruit high-quality, well-qualified teaching staff.
New clause 1 would also bring academies into the scope of the provision. The Government appear to believe that maintained schools that are experiencing difficulties need a fundamental change of structure, but that that does not apply to academies. They seem to think that academy status is right for failing maintained schools, but it is also right for failing academies. That seems to be the Government’s policy. The Secretary of State’s position is that if an academy fails, the obvious solution is to turn it into an academy. That simply makes no sense.
My hon. Friend recently guided me through my first Bill Committee experience, for which I am grateful. As a novice, being mentored by someone of his experience will no doubt stand me in good stead. During the evidence session, Malcolm Trobe, a former secondary school headteacher and now general secretary of the Association of School and College
Leaders, was asked about the distinction between academies and maintained schools and whether they should be treated differently. He replied:
“No. All schools should be judged effectively on the same range of indicators.”
He went on to say:
“I think we believe in fairness and equality and, therefore, all schools should be treated the same, whether they be academies or maintained schools.”––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee,
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that expertise and agree that Malcolm Trobe was right?
I thank my young apprentice for his intervention. He is a very quick learner, as he has just shown. He is absolutely right. The central point of our new clause 1 is that academies and maintained schools should be treated equally. There appears to be a presumption by the Government that academies are always superior to maintained schools, even when they are failing academies. In Committee, however, the Schools Minister, referring to me, stated:
“The hon. Gentleman is also wrong to say that we see schools as a hierarchy with academies at the top and maintained schools at the bottom. We do not.”––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee,
He denied it, but I am afraid that no one believes him. Every time Ministers open their mouth, they give the clear impression—through the frequency of their praise of academies over maintained schools, the frequency of their visits to academies and their singling out of one type of school over the other for legislation—that they do not see schools in the way that the Minister described. They see them arranged in a hierarchy by type, rather than by quality of education and performance.
Ministers’ powers over academies are to be found in the various funding agreements, and there is no consistency in those powers. There is also no mention of coasting in any of those funding agreements, so it is unclear how the Minister’s right to intervene in a coasting school, under his proposed definition or any other, could be applied to a coasting academy. People might start to believe his words denying a ministerial hierarchy if he were to accept our proposal to include all schools in this provision.
This is not an extension; it is a dilution of what was an effective, limited and targeted intervention using scarce resources where nothing else had worked before. The Minister knows full well that he is trying to say that the only solution for school improvement, everywhere and on every occasion, is to academise a school, even if there is not a good sponsor available in the area. That is a ludicrous position, and we shall return to this matter later.
Presumably the Minister is going to have to renegotiate thousands of individual funding agreements to ensure that coasting academies do not escape the scrutiny and investigation that he believes to be so important for our schools. Alternatively, he could admit that the coasting schools provisions in the Bill will not apply to academies. The Government cannot go on pretending that academies can continue to exist outside public law on this scale. The previous Government acknowledged that fact, when special educational provision in academies was legislated for in the Children and Families Act 2014 in relation to the duty of an academy trust to admit a pupil with a statement of special educational needs. So it can be done, and such a provision could have been introduced into this Bill. Similar acknowledgement was made under the provisions on pupil admissions in the Education Act 2011.
New clause 2 covers schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgment. This is to be read in conjunction with amendment 2, which would remove clause 7 from the Bill, and with amendment 3, which would stop the ban in consultation on schools judged inadequate, ahead of forced academisation. The new clause also relates to amendments 4, 5, 6 and 7.
New clause 2 would replace clause 7, which covers the duty to make academy orders. The concept of forced academisation when a school is found to be inadequate must rate as one of the most grotesque uses of statute law to control schools ever to be invented by any Government of any political description. The Secretary of State will be required to issue an academy order to approximately 250 maintained schools and then let the school and the local authority argue about when the order should be revoked under clause 12, but that is a waste of time and effort.
According to Ofsted’s management information on inspection outcomes up to
As clause 7 stands, the Secretary of State has pretty much an absolute duty placed on her to academise a school that has an “inadequate” Ofsted rating. As we have said, in particular circumstances, with particular sponsors, the academy model works well, but it does not always work well and other models have worked better in some cases. We examined some of those cases in Committee, particularly those that were brought to us by the Catholic Education Service, which is deeply concerned about the rigidity and, dare I say it, the assumption of infallibility on the part of the Secretary of State, as illustrated by clause 7.
In Committee, we discussed some of the alternative approaches to school improvement, and the CES gave us some good examples. I will not go into them in great detail, but it told us about the use of an executive headteacher as a means of school improvement at St James the Great Catholic primary school in London. Despite pressure to academise, the diocese wanted to use the executive headteacher, resulting in the implementation of a school improvement plan with an executive head and teachers from other local schools coming in. The school was re-inspected in June 2013 and whereas it had been grade 3 for three categories and grade 4 in leadership and management, with an overall grade 4, by then it had improved to an overall grade 2. That arrangement continues, with overwhelming support from staff and parents of both schools. That alternative intervention would, in effect, be banned by the Bill, because of the Secretary of State’s delusions of infallibility.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point, because the evidence shows that the most important element in educational improvement is the quality of leadership and of teaching. The example that he gave from the CES is probably about that executive head and his or her ability to lead, and much less about the structures, which tend to dominate debates in here.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. There was a resource available locally of an outstanding executive head to take on the role, but the Bill would require the school to be academised and taken over by sponsors, who may have nothing to do with the local area, the local diocese and the wishes of local people and parents.
We also highlighted how partnership is another alternative way of going about school improvement. The case study sent to us by the CES was that of the Corpus Christi Partnership and the St Joseph’s Catholic primary school in Crayford. Members may have seen that the CES highlighted this case in the briefing for the remaining stages. The school had had a section 5 inspection in May 2012, when it got grade 4 for attainment, teaching and leadership, and grade 3 for behaviour and safety. Overall, it got grade 4 and was in special measures. The diocese brokered a support programme led by the headteacher of St Catherine’s Catholic school in Crayford and the expertise of a number of local schools in Bexley was used to improve the school. It was re-inspected under section 5 in June 2013 and graded 2 in all areas, with an overall grade 2. It was so successful that all the Catholic schools in the area formed a partnership—a school improvement and support board—through which all schools are committed to collaborative working and supporting schools in areas where support is needed. This was about a partnership, instead of automatic academisation, working successfully. Again, that approach would, in effect, be banned by this Bill because of the Secretary of State’s delusions of infallibility.
What about federation as a way of trying to bring about school improvement? Let us look at another case study, that of the Regina Coeli Catholic primary school in south Croydon. Again, a “poor” inspection led to intervention, whereby an interim executive board was put in place. There was pressure from an academy broker, probably on £1,000 a day from the Department—we know from parliamentary questions that that was what some of them were paid—to join a multi-academy trust. The diocese did not agree that that was the best thing for the school and arranged for the headteacher of St James the Great Catholic primary school in Thornton Heath to become executive headteacher for both schools until a permanent arrangement was agreed, which was to join a local federation of schools. Key staff from the other school were used—this included using its deputy to become the head of school—and a federation was joined in 2014. Again, the re-inspection showed much improved performance in the school, with it being graded 2 in all areas and overall. That was an example of a federation being used, instead of automatic academisation, and working successfully. Again, that approach would, in effect, be banned by the Bill because of the Secretary of State’s delusions of infallibility.
As we have established, the Secretary of State holds an ideological position, which says that private sponsors are always better than public authorities and, in particular, better than any local authorities, regardless of the party in control, be it Labour or Conservative. We believe that decisions should be made according to the circumstances of the particular case, based on the evidence—it may well be that an academy solution is the best in some circumstances. The Secretary of State does not believe that, even though she already has the powers at her disposal to issue an academy order, if she wishes to do so. Under the Academies Act 2010 she can make an academy order in relation to any school that has received an adverse Ofsted finding. All she is doing with clause 7 is tying her own hands to one particular course of action, and academisation has to happen even if there is no high-quality sponsor available, even if the local authority has a strong record of improving schools and even if the parents and school or local diocese propose a credible, proven alternative approach. We know from the evidence that we have been given that that is the case.
I wonder how the Secretary of State is going to find all these sponsors to manage the 1,000 more academies that the Prime Minister has committed himself to during this Parliament, given that in the past five years the Government have struggled to convert all the schools that they could have, often because of the shortcomings of the Secretary of State and the Department, rather than because of any opposition locally. There will be circumstances when the academy route is clearly not the best one, but through this clause Ministers have tied themselves to it, regardless of whether it will do the school any good or not. We are all fallible, Madam Deputy Speaker, even you, except when you make a ruling from the Chair, but the Secretary of State should have the humility to renounce her attempt to legislate for her own infallibility and she should accept our new clause 2.
The final proposal the Labour Front-Bench team has made is new clause 3, which relates to schools causing concern and the involvement of parents, and has to be read with amendments 8 and 9. My hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, who is not here this afternoon, put it well on Second Reading, when she said:
“Amazingly, the Bill says that parents should not be consulted, so the very people who know about a school will not be allowed to have a say. In this country, we consult, we do not dictate, and that is one of the key areas that judges will look at in considering whether a decision is lawful.”—[Hansard, 22 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 684.]
In new clause 3, we are showing that we are on the side of parents; it would put parents back in the picture when the Secretary of State would purge them from the process. That is why the press release from the New Schools Network about parents’ rights today is so ironic; it comes on the same day as the Government are pushing through the Commons the remaining stages of this Bill, which obliterates the chances of parents to have any say in the future of their local school. Although the Government protest that parents are, from time to time, foremost in their thoughts in their education policies, that is patently not true. In fact, the Government treat parents who want to have a say in the future of their child’s school with thinly disguised contempt—that is probably a bit unfair, because it is not thinly disguised at all. The Minister makes it clear that any parent who expresses concern at how Government policy affects their school is deemed to be an ideologically motivated individual. This Bill sweeps away any pretence that the Government care about what parents think.
New clause 3(2) would insert a new section 59A in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 that sets out the principle that the Secretary of State, local authority, school governing body and academy trust must do everything possible to involve parents in decisions about schools in difficulties. It would bring academies into the Act’s remit as well. Parents at all types of publicly funded schools should be treated equally, and that is what the new clause would achieve. Subsections (4) and (5) would require parents to be informed if a school received a warning notice about its performance, its safety or its teacher conditions.
There is a loose duty under the 2010 Act to consult on an application for academy status. It puts the duty to consult on the school governing body, and the consultation can happen after or before an academy order is made. The consultation is only about whether the school should be an academy. There is no duty on the Department for Education, despite the fact that, in many cases, it will be the Department that has required the conversion to happen. There will be no consultation either on who should be the sponsor. In relation to schools eligible for intervention, clause 8 removes the requirement to consult.
We know what the Secretary of State thinks about parents. On
“sweep away the bureaucratic and legal loopholes previously exploited by those who put ideological objections above the best interests of children.”
The objections she was referring to here are most commonly those held by the parents of the children affected. Parent Teacher Association UK recently commissioned a YouGov poll of 1,000 parents. Some 85% of them told the pollsters that they want a say in how their child is educated, and 79% want to support their child’s school. PTA UK calls for parents to be involved in a timely way with any developments in the school, but the Bill would sweep away any opportunity for that to happen. Again, it is another example of the infallibility complex that the Secretary of State seems to have. We live in a democracy. Governments do not always know best in every circumstance. She is removing the democratic right of parents and others to influence the future of local schools. It goes against the Government’s purported support for localism where local people have a say on local issues. The Bill would introduce even more centralised control than we already have. It is an extraordinary departure from the normal decision-making processes of Government.
The Secretary of State would make a decision without the need to make any attempt whatever to listen to parents, pupils, teachers, governors and employers—in fact anyone at all who might be thought to have some knowledge of the situation locally. As we heard earlier, we know what the Secretary of State thinks about other people’s views. She justifies that on the absolute presumption that her solution is always infallible, but—as has been demonstrated over and again—that is not true.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that it was the parents’ wishes that a school should fail or that it should be put into special measures by Ofsted? Was that school adhering to parents’ wishes when that happened?
No parents wish for a school to be put into special measures under any circumstances, but that does not mean that they wish to have their right to express their view about the future of the school ridden roughshod over by a Bill that does not even allow alternatives to be considered, even when those alternatives have been proven to be successful. That is the point. Under the Bill, the Secretary of State will be tied to one single course of action, even when other alternatives are available locally that are supported by parents. We want to ensure that parents have that opportunity. It is clear from the Minister’s attitude—in fairness, he has always been clear about this—that he views any objection to anything the Government propose with regard to academies as being ideologically driven by troublemakers, which is his definition of a parent.
To put it generously, there is no evidence that academy conversion is more likely to lead to improvement in an inadequate school than the adoption of other school improvement measures, which is why we should use evidence to determine the best way forward in what I would hope is a shared desire and passion to improve the quality of education in our schools.
There is a case in general terms for consultation. There is also a case for consultation in particular. Parents should not have particular solutions imposed on them without having some say in the matter. We know from Ofsted—this is despite the efforts of Ministers to prevent Ofsted getting at what is really happening in chains— how inadequate some academy chains can be. Parents are entitled to say that that is not a particular regime that they want for their local schools.
Schools are not gifts that can be dished out to Ministers’ friends, supporters and party donors. Government should not leave themselves open to the charge that they have favourites and will support them regardless of any evidence that has been put forward, because that is what this Bill does. Ultimately, it may be that, after consulting the Government, schools may decide that it is right to follow the initial path that they propose, but not to consult at all is wrong in principle.
Finally, I have a few words to say about amendment 11. I do not have time to comment on many of the other new clauses and amendments, but I will comment on amendment 11, tabled by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) and others. It is about the creation of new selective schools, albeit in the form of academies.
I wish to make it clear that it is the Opposition’s view that a system of selection at 11 is not the way to raise school standards or to promote social mobility. I think that that is also the Government’s policy—I am sure that the Minister will tell us whether that has changed. Instead we should focus relentlessly on supporting schools to raise standards for all pupils regardless of their backgrounds. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby said, the most effective way to do that is through high quality teaching and leadership.
Clear evidence internationally, particularly from the OECD and Andreas Schleicher—whom the Government often quote and who oversees the OECD programme for international student assessment scores—shows that school systems with selection for children at the age of 11, and all that that entails, perform less well than non-selective school systems. Far from promoting social mobility, selective systems entrench social division. The difference in the average domestic wage between the top 10% and bottom 10% of earners is much wider in selective areas than it is in non-selective areas.
Schools that select at age 11 are also highly socially selective institutions. Almost all of the remaining 164 grammar schools in this country have fewer than 10% of pupils eligible for free school meals. In 2010, 96,680 year 7 pupils received free school meals from a total of 549, 725 pupils in state schools. Of the 22,000 grammar school pupils in that age bracket, only 610 were receiving free school meals. It is undeniable that the poorest children lose out, and that is partly because, in some areas, almost everyone who passes the 11-plus has had private tuition of one sort or another.
I will not go into great detail about the evidence from the past: suffice it to say that the rose-tinted view of the selective system in the past is not true. At its height, at the beginning of the 1960s, a third of grammar school pupils got only three O-levels, and only 0.3% of grammar school pupils at that time with two A-levels were working class. It is therefore a myth that grammar schools were great engines of social mobility. There are many reasons for the great surge in post-war social mobility, but selection at 11 is not one of them. That is why the current Prime Minister was absolutely right in 2007 when he said that those who wanted to expand the number of grammar schools were
“splashing around in the shallow end of the educational debate.”
He went on to say that if his party got into this area, it would be in danger of becoming “a right-wing debating society” rather than an aspiring party of government. That is why the current Government have largely held on to the policy of not allowing more schools that select at the age of 11, although they have permitted a loophole to those that he said were
“clinging on to outdated mantras that bear no relation to the reality of life.”
The Government created a loophole to allow the expansion of selective provision by stealth to locations many miles away from existing grammar schools. We wait with interest to see whether, as the press has speculated, the
Secretary of State intends to use that loophole. Given the damage that it does to children’s education overall, we oppose selection at 11 and amendment 11.
I am delighted to follow Kevin Brennan, who gave me a cue to speak at this point to amendment 11, which stands in my name. I have debated this subject with him on more than one occasion, as I have with my hon. Friend the Minister, and I suspect that we will do so again on future occasions. I therefore do not intend to detain the House for long.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West spoke at length about the experience of selection in the 1960s as though it was something that no longer existed, and of which we have no experience today. Of course, I come to the subject precisely because my constituency is in the borough of Trafford in Greater Manchester, which is still a selective local authority area. Furthermore, the state schools in my constituency are probably the best in England and Wales, by any objective measure, and that goes for the grammar schools, the high schools—my hon. Friend the Minister has visited some of the excellent high schools in my constituency—and the primary schools, which are at the top of the table. We maintain high standards throughout, whereas in many areas high performance in primary education then dips at the beginning of secondary education. We also have an outstanding further education college, Trafford College. Whatever it is that the hon. Gentleman thinks might have gone wrong in the past, I submit that it is not going wrong in the borough of Trafford, at least at the moment.
I have great respect for what the hon. Gentleman is saying and for the record in Trafford, but does he agree that the record on standards in schools is rather different in Kent? What he describes for the secondary sector in Trafford is rather different from what we see in another local authority that maintains selection.
Kent is obviously a very big county, and there is a lot of diversity in performance there. I believe very firmly that if we are trying to improve a system, we should look at the bits that are working less well and try to raise standards there, rather than removing the parts that work best. I think that the tragedy of the comprehensive revolution in the 1960s and ’70s was that often the people who suffered most as a result of the destruction of so many grammar schools were working class people in areas where very little of quality was put in their place. The hon. Gentleman will have heard me quote from the pamphlet “A Class Act”, written by Lord Adonis and Stephen Pollard, who was then at the Fabian Society, in which they made that very point.
I am a strong supporter of what this Government and the Government immediately before did to try to raise standards in all schools. I am a strong supporter of academies and free schools. In fact, when I was shadow Schools Minister—the job that the hon. Member for Cardiff West now has, has had for some time and might have for many years to come—I was able constantly to praise the efforts of the then Labour Government to increase the autonomy of schools and create the academy model, building on the grant-maintained schools that went before them. It is regrettable that the Opposition are starting to move away from that bipartisan position.
To return to amendment 11, my campaigning on the subject aims to bring better schools and more opportunity to more children in state schools across the country, as well as to champion the obvious success that is evident in my constituency and in the borough of Trafford. Having been educated at Altrincham grammar school, which is in my constituency, I do not just believe that selective education can bring wider opportunity and social mobility; I know it.
I am not seeking to impose a different model of education on places or communities that do not want it, but I believe in wider choice for parents and a greater diversity of schools. I cannot see why every specialism under the sun should be welcomed today, except for a specialism in teaching the more academic. It is absurd in today’s pattern of educational provision that the law still holds that the man in Whitehall knows best, especially if he celebrates the success of existing grammar schools but seeks to prohibit any new ones, however much parents and communities might want them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on this welcome amendment. We have heard from the Opposition in another context about the need to encourage partnership and collaboration and to provide consultation. His amendment provides for selection admission arrangements but only if
“a local education authority or local admission forum” requests it, so it goes down that very route.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. Of course, I was deeply disappointed, if not entirely surprised, that the hon. Member for Cardiff West, having lauded the benefits of localism and urged more reliance on what communities and parents across the country want, then sought to dismiss amendment 11 out of hand, despite the fact that it seeks to ensure that the proposed changes would be possible only in the event of significant levels of local support, as evidenced by the request from a local education authority or a local admission forum.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the current situation in Kent. It is ridiculous that parents in Sevenoaks are having to wait to see whether an application for an annex to an existing grammar school can fit through the Department for Education’s hoops. Kent has a pattern of selection that is popular and well established, and the problem is that demographic changes have led to a mismatch between the location of schools and the location of the communities that depend upon them.
Amendment 11 has widespread support, including from three parties represented in the House, two well respected members of the principal Opposition party, at least two Conservative former Education Ministers, a former shadow Education Secretary, a former shadow Schools Minister—that is me—and at least three former Cabinet Ministers. It also enjoy the support of the current Mayor of London, my hon. Friend Boris Johnson, although sadly not in time for his name to appear on the amendment paper. There is therefore a breadth of support across the House for these changes.
Contrary to what the shadow Schools Minister implied, that breadth of support is hardly surprising. In fact, the surprising thing is that there is not more support for selection evidenced in the House, given that opinion polls—they do not get everything right, but they do give some indication, when they are consistent, of strength of opinion—suggest that over 70% of the public, and indeed the majority of voters for all the main parties, would like to see more grammar schools.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that when the question is reversed and the public are asked whether they would like to see secondary moderns reinstated, more than 70% say that they would not?
I do accept that, but I think it is a false choice to offer people, given the advances we have since made in the genuine diversity of school provision. We have so many different types of schools, with so many different specialisms, that it really is not a binary choice. It seems particularly odd to tell people that they are allowed to have schools that specialise in the creative arts or in maths and computing, but not schools that specialise in teaching those on the more academic part of the spectrum.
It is 17 years since the introduction of ballot arrangements for the removal of existing grammar schools, but not a single challenge has succeeded—one took place many years ago in North Yorkshire, but it was defeated by more than 70% of the local population. In areas that benefit from grammar schools, almost no one wants to change that. I find myself going through general election campaigns looking for candidates from other parties who do not agree that the local schools are so good that they should remain as they are.
This amendment is modest in scope. I am almost embarrassed at how modest my aspirations have become in this regard. All the amendment seeks to do is give a power to the Secretary of State and, as I said to my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, only when the Secretary of State was requested to exercise that power by a local authority or by the local admission forum. It would not force any community to have new grammar schools if it did not want them, nor would it force a Secretary of State to approve any such schools if she did not wish to do so. Local support would be a given under my proposal.
Amendment 11, in its modest scope, would begin to resolve the very real problem of areas such as Sevenoaks, which have selective schools but where changes in the population have impacted on the balance of selection in a particular area. This problem has long been understood. The hon. Member for Cardiff West quoted extensively some of my favourite dicta of the then Leader of the Opposition and current Prime Minister on this subject, but the hon. Gentleman omitted to say—far more pertinent to the subject of amendment 11—that at the same time as that policy position was being set out in relation to selective education generally, it was accepted that there was a significant problem in some selective areas where the pattern of population had changed, and therefore the balance of selection might be affected. It was accepted that perhaps in Buckinghamshire, Kent and other selective areas it might be appropriate to have a new grammar school in order to address that problem.
That was accepted a decade ago. In the previous Parliament the Government were held back by the difficulties and rigours of coalition. Now that we are free of that constraint, I hope the Minister will give me some hope that we might look at ways to return to tackling that difficulty. As I said, this amendment is modest in its scope. As an incurable optimist, I hope that when the Minister responds he will indicate that the Government will welcome my amendment, accept it and see it as an additional important but modest tool in the armoury available to the Secretary of State. But if he does not, I hope he will undertake to look at what can be done by the Government as the Bill passes through the other place, and to look at other ways in which this very real problem might be addressed.
It is clear that there is real demand, both here in this House and in the country more widely. It is time the Government agreed to assist parents and communities in achieving the wider choice of schools that they want. There is a live debate about this subject always, and there will be at least as long as we still have areas like mine which have selective schools that perform so well and deliver for parents, both in the grammar schools and the high schools. I end by making it clear again that I do not seek to impose different schools and different models of education on any community in the country, but it is time we recognised that where communities want to have selective schools, they should be free to have them.
I shall resist the temptation to respond in detail to Mr Brady, who made his case very powerfully. I disagree with it, for the reasons that my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, the shadow Minister, gave. The grammar schools debate is one to which, I am sure, we will return, but I want to focus on supporting the new clauses proposed from the Opposition Front Bench.
The case that my hon. Friend made is extremely powerful. It is about looking at the evidence of what has worked in this country and in other parts of the world. When I intervened on him earlier, I spoke about our experience in government with the London challenge. I want to talk a little about the London challenge, because it shows a different way of doing things from the one which the present Government are following. Academies started in London. A number of academies were created as part of the London challenge. To this day I am proud of those academies that we created in London, in places such as Hackney, which had been badly let down in the past by the education system, and I celebrate the success of schools such as Mossbourne and many others across London that have done so well as academies.
We know, however, that the evidence on academies is mixed. We have to acknowledge that. In Liverpool the schools that are struggling the most at secondary level are the sponsored academies. I do not therefore condemn them for being academies, but I recognise that they face big challenges. They tend to serve some of the areas of greatest social and economic need in the city. Simply making them academies did not, on its own, ensure that those schools would be transformed and do brilliantly. That is why I warmly welcome new clause 1, which my hon. Friend moved. The approach that was taken in the
London challenge, very much under the inspirational leadership of Tim Brighouse, was to look at the evidence, broker relationships between different schools in London, recognise the diversity of social and economic conditions in different communities across London, and not to have a one-size-fits-all approach.
As a Minister I spoke to local government leaders in London about academies. Some of those councils were Labour but many were Conservative or Liberal Democrat at that time. There were different views about academies. In local authority areas in London such as Camden and Tower Hamlets that did not want to have academies, we did not take the view that they should be imposed. In both those cases, we have seen real improvement in schools over recent decades. Other authorities, such as Hackney, Southwark and Lambeth, were more open to the creation of academies and that was part of the route that we pursued.
I welcome the fact that new clause 1 recognises that we have to take a sophisticated approach that looks at all the evidence. Data are extremely important. I never have any truck with those who suggest that we can simply ignore the data about a school, but data are only one aspect of the judgment that we have to make. We must look at context and at progress, as the Government have acknowledged—the value that is being added by the school. We have to look at the history of the school and, crucially, at the quality of leadership, teaching and learning in the school. The emphasis on that in the new clause is hugely welcome.
I urge the Government to reconsider an approach which is so highly centralised from London, does not take sufficiently into account concerns in local communities, and regards academy status as the be-all and end-all, when the reality is that we have some great successes from academies and we have some wonderful schools that have chosen not to go down that route. We should celebrate those schools equally. Ministers should visit those schools equally and their role in raising standards for all in our education system should be celebrated by all of us on a cross-party basis.
I look at the primary schools in my constituency, in West Derby in Liverpool, many of which do a fantastic job. I have spoken previously of Ranworth Square school in Norris Green, which has one of the highest levels of deprivation in the country but consistently delivers good results for the children at 11. It is not an academy, it has fantastic leadership and it works well with other schools and with the local authority. Changing that school’s status would make no fundamental difference. Why does the school succeed? It is because it has great leadership, great teaching, and great relationships with the community and with other schools. Sometimes the change that comes through academy status can be transformational. I referred to some of the brilliant examples in London, and it is important that we remind ourselves of them.
Much analysis has been done of the London challenge. It was not all good and all successful, but the main feature of the analyses that I have seen, with which I certainly concur, is that the London challenge worked because it was collaborative and based on evidence. It was collaborative across schools and across communities. Local authorities were involved, but the schools were very much in the driving seat, working with us in central
Government. We need that kind of approach elsewhere. Something that works in a capital city cannot be replicated in every part of the country.
That is why the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, and cabinet member Nick Small have decided that we are going to have a Liverpool challenge. They have asked me to chair it. I will be working with schools, business, the further education college, the universities and others. This will be across the piece. Academy schools, local authority schools, faith schools and church schools are a particularly important component of education in the city. The aim is absolutely to raise standards for all young people in the schools. We have seen a big improvement in many of our cities, including Liverpool, over the past two decades, but in recent years we have had a drop-off in our secondary results, with Liverpool falling a bit behind some other cities. The mayor of Liverpool recognised that and has asked for this piece of work to happen.
I mention this because that kind of approach still has value. It is rooted in the community and in local democratic leadership, but it is also rooted in recognising that we have a big challenge on standards. There is no denial of that in the approach being taken.
I genuinely wish the hon. Gentleman every success in his chairing of the Liverpool challenge. Does he accept, though, that the approach taken in the multi-academy trust system is designed specifically to replicate that kind of approach but within a chain of academies, not necessarily inner-city, up and down the country?
I do recognise that. A number of multi-academy trusts have proved hugely successful, and I praise their work. However, we must also recognise that some academy chains have not been successful. That is why I support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Louise Haigh advocating inspection of academy chains on the same basis as Ofsted inspection of local authorities. That is a really important principle. The good or outstanding multi-academy trusts have nothing to fear from my hon. Friend’s amendment, but in the same way that we have challenged local authorities that have not succeeded in education in the past, we must challenge academies and academy chains.
The evidence now shows that we have seen some real improvement in our schools, particularly in cities and notably in London, but we still have some enormous challenges in coastal areas. I encourage the Government and my own party to look at this. Many coastal areas that have faced serious economic decline and big social challenges now have some of the poorest-performing schools; they may be coasting schools or schools with some of the poorest results. It is vital that we tackle that in the same way that the previous Labour Government sought to tackle underperformance in schools in our cities.
I hope that we can do that as this debate moves forward. It will be best done in a collaborative way that challenges the schools and works with them, because that is the way that works. It has worked with the London challenge, and the black country and Manchester challenges, and I hope it will work with the Liverpool challenge in which I am so pleased to have been asked to play my part.
It is a pleasure to take part in this stage of the debate on this important Bill. I, too, support the Government in their intolerance of failing and coasting schools, and their continued restlessness for improvements. Young people have been let down by the system and by their schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas where mobility is being stifled.
I want to speak to new clause 2. I welcome the comments by Stephen Twigg. In many ways my comments will chime with what he said. From his experience of my constituency as my predecessor, he will know of the example I am going to use.
We need to look carefully at the assumption that there is a form of governance that is right for every school. We all no doubt agree that any good school needs strong leadership and supportive governors who are there to be critical friends to help to develop its character and to produce, through the quality of the teaching, the results that every child across our nation deserves. Certain types of governance and structure are needed at certain times to be able to provide initiatives, interventions and the rapid improvement that is required, and others are needed at other times to support and complement all the basic skills.
I want to talk about the example of Broomfield school. I declare an interest as a governor of the school at the time when it went into special measures in October 2011. I am now an associate governor—just hanging on, but still maintaining a particular interest in the school. The Ofsted report of October 2011 said:
“The leadership and management of teaching and learning are inadequate…Leaders and managers, including governors, have had insufficient impact in addressing weak provision and poor outcomes in science…Self-evaluation is wide of the mark and the school has an unrealistic view of the quality of provision.”
I could go on and on. Unfortunately it was a damning report on the leadership and the quality of teaching throughout the school. It left the school on its knees, with morale very low. The head teacher resigned and we wondered what to do next. The governors recognised that they too had been criticised for their leadership and needed to take action. They came to me and said, “Can you do something about it?” I looked around at the evidence from the London challenge and other ways in which we could try to bring about rapid improvement. The Department was breathing down the neck of Broomfield school, saying that it might need to intervene and there needed to be an interim board. The LEA was extremely concerned. Indeed, Ofsted was probably concerned, because six months before it had given a “good” classification to the school that hid what was underneath, which was some systemic failures that needed to be addressed.
I looked around and saw that in order to do all that we wanted to do in trying to make rapid improvements, we needed to change the leadership to make it strong. We also needed to see what was around locally and collaborate to try to provide quick advice and support on excellence. I initiated a so-called rapid recovery group that I chaired during the time that we sought to come off our knees and help the school, along with the teachers who wanted to stay and be part of the senior and middle leadership—to be part of the future rather than consigned to the past.
When we looked around we saw that there were outstanding heads in Enfield. At Southgate school—the old school of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby—and others there were excellent governors who were able to get involved; we had excellence on our doorstep. They became part of the rapid recovery group, along with the local authority. We tried to see what we could do without outside intervention, because we could move more quickly than if we went into a longer process that would also have been more destabilising for Broomfield. We were able to take prompt action on appointments and to provide some degree of certainty for the teachers who remained to try to make improvements.
That was the Enfield approach. It worked for Enfield but it would not work everywhere; we had the excellence on our doorstep that enabled us to do it. We benefited from the time that we were given to do it and from bringing on board, not least, the parents, as well as the remaining governors, to look to a brighter future.
In May 2015, Ofsted rated Broomfield as a good school. It said:
“The headteacher provides strong leadership and is ably supported by his senior team...Most students now make at least expected progress or better in most subjects…School leaders work with professionalism and care to support all students, particularly those who are more vulnerable”— the school has a very challenging intake to deal with. It continued:
“The quality of teaching has improved significantly. A relentless focus on teaching and learning is supported by a programme of high quality training for all staff…Students’ behaviour is good in lessons”— which certainly was not the case in 2011. It continued:
“Governors are knowledgeable about their school. They effectively support and challenge school leaders to ensure they remain focused on whole school priorities.”
It took us longer than we wanted to get to that stage—the rapid recovery group was not quite so rapid—but we got there. Step-by-step improvement brought the school along, together with the excellent support from within Enfield. It was a good example of collaboration and partnership. We have reached a point where we are good and need to make still further progress. Obviously, as soon as possible we want to be an outstanding school.
I have some sympathy with new clause 2 and the comments made by the Opposition. I want some reassurance from the Minister, who I know from his great experience is relentless in wanting improvements for all young people and to ensure that we are intolerant of failure and coasting schools. I am with the Minister on the broad thrust of the Bill, but I want him to reassure me that there will be time for consultation on the changes and that there will be the opportunity to work with local excellence and to draw on that support—yes, of the multi-chain academies that understand the model of the London challenge and, more locally, the model of the Enfield challenge. We were able to bring that change about through the rapid recovery group. Other schools that have been in special measures around my patch, such as the De Bohun school, have used the collaborative partnership model of the rapid recovery group to use the excellence on our doorsteps to improve. That seems to be working for Enfield, and I want us to benefit from that and set a good example so that schools from across the country can benefit from that excellence.
I was never wholly convinced by the academies programme of the previous Labour Government, but as an educational professional—who worked under London challenge, on which I echo with many of the points raised by Mr Burrowes but would add that the relentless refusal to accept failure was a major part of it—I understood that there were schools that had consistently failed where everything had been tried and where something new was needed. Ultimately, I took the view that it was important for the children, parents and communities that had been consistently failed that I gave the programme the benefit of the doubt. I at least understood the rationale behind it, but the policy of the coalition Government and this Government of wholesale academisation and the establishment of free schools where there is no basic need and purely on the basis of ideology is both damaging and a colossal waste of public money.
I was a member of the previous Select Committee on Education, and we carried out a major piece of work on academies and free schools. We found absolutely no evidence whatsoever that academies improved standards more than maintained schools or improved standards faster. When I say that we found no evidence, I mean that we looked for it. We looked really hard, but it simply does not exist and it is wrong of the Prime Minister, Education Ministers and Conservative Members constantly to over-claim and exaggerate on behalf of academies.
We have seen a wholesale change in the educational structure of this country and if there is no evidence to back up such an approach, it must be based purely on ideology. In what seems the Government’s rush to academise at any cost, schools have been handed over to any academy chain, although some are beginning to fail and are having to be handed on again. The views and wishes of parents, staff, pupils and communities have counted for nothing. A number of high-profile campaigns against academisation by schools and communities in which there is clear evidence, backed up by Ofsted, that those schools were improving and had the capacity to improve further, have simply been swatted away by the current Secretary of State and the former Secretary of State, now the Lord Chancellor, as though they counted for nothing.
I know a number of things as an educationalist who worked in education for 25 years, and schools will not thrive without the support of their communities, yet the Government have simply disregarded the views of countless communities because, as we all know, the current and former Secretaries of State have such a breadth of knowledge and experience in education that they clearly know best. I agree with my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan when he talks about the sense of infallibility that seems to exist in the Department for Education.
The Government are taking away even the pretence of any need to consult local communities when academisation is proposed. I believe that that is wrong on all kinds of levels. Some of our academies and academy chains are doing a fabulous job, but I have concerns about academy chains, as the Schools Minister knows because we have debated them many times. Some of them are doing a really good job, but there is something dark and mysterious in many of these organisations. They exist on public money but there is little public transparency and very little public accountability.
As a member of the Select Committee, I tried really hard to follow some of that money. We were told constantly that the chains publish accounts once a year, but there was very little detail in them. I tried to find out how much money is being skimmed off the top of the funding given to schools to cover matters such as administration or to go into contracts linked to the members of those boards. I tried to find out how much was being paid on salaries, but with the exception of one person—the one who earns the most, which can mean more than £350,000—I could not find out anything. I could not find out how many people were paid more than £100,000, more than £200,000 or more than £300,000. I could not find out how many were paid a penny less than the one person whose salary had to be reported on. Local authorities are under a duty to transfer public money to schools and only hold back a tiny percentage of funding for the delivery of statutory education duties. There is no such legal duty on chains and it would appear to me, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that they are making large with it.
As a member of the Select Committee, in 2013 I visited the Netherlands, where the former Secretary of State got many of his ideas on academies and academy chains. At the time, the Netherlands were reeling from a scandal involving one of their school boards, which are very similar to our academy chains, that had gone bankrupt. What was causing the concern was not just the bankruptcy of the school board but the slow recognition that when a school board, like an academy chain, goes bankrupt, the assets of the school do not return to the public purse. They belong to the creditors. That means the school, its whiteboards, its laptops and, more importantly, the land on which it was built—and this is really important in places such as London where land is short. Creditors would rush in quickly, knock the school down and sell the land. The children and the community were left with no school and had to fall back on local authorities that did not have the resources to deal with them. The failure of an academy chain in this country is not a fantasy; I think it will be just a matter of time. The assets of those academy chains—of those former public schools that were paid for with money from our taxpayers—will drift off and belong to whoever the creditors are.
I am therefore asking the Government to think again and to consider the whole premise on which their academisation programme is built, the legal and financial basis, and the links with local authorities, children, families and communities. I ask them carefully to consult local communities when they are thinking about changing the nature of the school. A school is really important to a community, as we see when we try to close them down. Communities care about their schools and we ought to give them at least the opportunity to be consulted.
I would like the Government to give the local community the right of appeal to an independent body against the Secretary of State’s decision rather than just assuming that the Secretary of State is infallible. I want only sponsors with a proven record of educational success to be allowed to run academies—now there is a new and great idea. I want to give the chief inspector of schools the explicit right to inspect not only academies and free schools but the chains that manage those schools. This is public money, and to do anything else is not only foolish in the short and the long term but a waste of public funding.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to contribute to this very important debate. I supported the academies programme long before the last Government were elected. I thought that the Labour Government were right to create academies, and it is also right for the current Government to continue with that programme. It is my firm belief that a system that encourages autonomy, focuses on good leadership and draws attention to the ability of schools to work together is all about self-improvement and improvement in general. We should salute and welcome that, and my comments on the proposed new clauses and amendments should be seen in that context.
The current direction of travel is to create more academy trusts and to make sure that each one contains a range of schools that, first and foremost, meet pupils’ needs. My vision of a multi-academy trust is one that has a university technical college, ordinary secondary schools and a group of primary schools. In short, a MAT should offer a wide range of support so that a pupil can move around it, getting the education he or she needs and, above all, deserves. That is the very important direction we should be heading in.
On new clause 2, the fact is that if a school is failing, action needs to be swift. We cannot sit back and watch things get worse. That is the essence of why a Secretary of State should be able to intervene, and they should do so constructively so that the right kinds of governors can be found for the struggling or failing school.
It is essential that we understand that a day wasted getting a school back on track is a day lost for a pupil at that school. If we do the maths and realise how many pupils are at an individual school, we will see that the situation could become terrible. I have seen for myself schools floundering and the local authority, while knowing that something should be done, not having the courage or capacity to intervene. That is why I support the thrust of the powers of intervention by the Secretary of State and do not agree that new clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.
I would go further. Oddly enough, the Education Committee today discussed leadership and governance in schools. We asked the chief inspector of schools about his views and he repeated his belief that leadership and governance are paramount. He is absolutely right, and that is why I set up the all-party group on education leadership and governance five years ago. Yesterday we launched a report about moving governance on to the next step, which is a combination of more skills, greater focus on strategy, and a more federal approach so that one governing body can look after several schools. The National Governors Association, the Secretary of State, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the other place and governors themselves welcome that approach.
The all-party group has managed to attract huge support for and interest in making sure that governors are well placed to govern, and the Bill should take that into account. I reject new clause 2.
I can see the logic of new clause 8, but the Education Committee heard this morning that the real issue is the accountability lines between governance and leadership. It is about how a school is run, how it should be led and how it should be held accountable. I do not think that new clause 8 adds anything useful to the actual process of finding out where accountability lies; checking how it works and making sure that governance feels, and is, responsible; and that it ultimately holds a school to account through not only the head, but in other ways. For me, new clause 8 does not make a serious contribution to this debate.
I feel bound to comment on amendment 11, because my hon. Friend Mr Brady made a persuasive case. I shall confine myself to these comments. I think that existing grammar schools should certainly be allowed to expand—two in my constituency want to do exactly that—but I do not think that going down the selective route beyond where we now are would be right for our children or, indeed, for our education system as a whole. For the sake of all children who go to school, we must ensure that the thousands of schools we have can become much better than they are now, rather than focus on just a few schools. Amendment 11 would lead us down the track of focusing on just a few schools.
In Kingston and Surbiton, we have the two Tiffin schools. One is just outside my constituency, and one is in it. They are excellent examples of grammar schools, and I would certainly support maintaining them. Does my hon. Friend agree that schools can create a variety of educational models, albeit non-selective ones, within the free schools system? Those models follow the traditional academic grammar school route without the selective element, which is a successful way of preserving the grammar school ethos without the problems of selectivity.
I thank my hon. Friend for his very helpful intervention. That point justifies the free schools programme, which is all about bringing in choice and making sure that parents and staff can make decisions about their school, including about having a school of that type.
On that point, the shadow Minister quite rightly referred to what the New Schools Network has said about parent involvement. I have written about that in the past, and I pleased that the idea has now been given more traction. On the particular proposal of empowering parents to take action about the leadership of a school, I would say that they should do so only if the very highest threshold is met.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about parents. Is he at all concerned about the way in which the Bill sweeps away the right of parents to have a say on the future of their local schools?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, because it goes to the heart of the Bill. The Bill is largely about schools in which action needs to be taken to get them to a better place. Such action has to be taken urgently, it must be about leadership and governance and, where necessary, it must take the form of intervention. As I have said, the principal focus should be on whether pupils benefit from delay or from action to take their school to a better place.
I do not want to say that parents should not be consulted, because I think they should. For example, there is a strong role for parent teacher associations to play in the interface with the community about a school’s future. I spoke to the chief executive of PTA UK just a few days ago, and I was struck by the role that PTAs can play in such dialogue. When a school is failing, however, we must take action. That is implicit in the Bill. Action is absolutely necessary for any failing school.
“signals to parents that their views aren’t to be considered and positions them as unimportant despite the prevailing research that confirms their engagement as important to their child’s education.”
I invite him to comment.
It is absolutely right for there to be engagement, but I think that we are confusing two different things. I would have thought that PTA UK was talking about engagement with the school more generally. I am referring to the issues in the Bill and the specific question of whether intervention should be swift and effective, and the degree of consultation that should be involved.
Of course there should be consultation and the Bill makes clear the role of regional schools commissioners, who should consult fairly widely. The Education Committee will look into the role and capacity of the regional schools commissioners. One question that we will ask is how that consultation process is undertaken. I do not think that that point is at variance with the spirit of the Bill.
On amendment 12, we cannot have coasting schools and when we see them we must act. In the last Parliament, the chief inspector produced a powerful report about the long tail of underachievement, which detailed the problem that many schools carry on coasting without being noticed. It is striking that many of those schools are in rural and coastal areas. That tells us that the mechanism is not in place to properly check what a coasting school is doing. I therefore believe that amendment 12 would take us in the wrong direction.
A coasting school is a very bad place to be. If a school is coasting along then, even if everybody thinks it is doing okay, it is not doing its job properly. It is therefore a real challenge for the teachers and governors to move it forward. Of course, we need to discuss in some detail the definition of a coasting school, but if the teachers and governors of a coasting school are not moving it forward, we must act. I therefore do not believe that amendment 12 is appropriate.
According to the “Member’s explanatory statement”, amendment 12 would
That is what I read, and I do not think that that should be the direction of travel. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about its connection to new clause 1.
The important point to make about amendment 13 is that if a school is in trouble, appeals from the governing body, which is probably responsible for a large part of those difficulties, ought to be put into perspective. Instead, a governing body should recognise that it has a duty and responsibility to participate in improving the school.
The Bill has a lot going for it. We need to address the issue of school leadership. In my judgment, we need more multi-academy trusts because they provide the right framework for schools to help each other and pursue self-improvement. It is critical that we focus on coasting schools and use powers to ensure that they stop coasting and, instead, do what they are supposed to be doing, which is raising the standard of delivery for pupils.
I rise in support of new clauses 3 and 9, and to make a few remarks about amendment 11.
What bothers me about this legislation is the issue of consultation, which was alluded to by Neil Carmichael, and parental consultation in particular. That is a long-term anxiety for me, because I am aware of local schools in my constituency that have been subjected to horrific bullying by academy brokers to covert to academies, and I would not wish that replicated anywhere else.
Despite having been a member of the coalition Government, I have general reservations about the Academies Act 2010, which I consider inferior to Mrs Thatcher’s legislation on grant-maintained schools. That gave parents a decisive vote on the destiny of the school. Members may recall that during the passage of the Academies Act, I divided the House, with the help of Mr Ed Balls, to try to get parents a better vote in the decisions on the structure, character and governance of the school. The answer of the House at the time was clearly no—parents were not to have such a voice—and this legislation would serve to further reduce the power of parents. Indeed, some of the witnesses who gave evidence in Committee stated explicitly that parents were not the best judges, or any kind of reasonable judge, of their children’s educational destiny.
In the Bill the powers of the local education authority, governors and diocesan authorities are reduced, as well as those of parents. Even interim executives are subject to constraints that they did not have before. Throughout, the common theme is that the powers of the Secretary of State increase, or those of the Secretary of State’s agents, the regional school commissioners, do, although those commissioners were something of an afterthought to the academies programme.
In the Bill rights of appeal are diminished, the duties of consultation are tokenistic and not spelled out, and timescales can be telescoped. We have to ask why the Secretary of State needs to accumulate any more power than they already have. It has been pointed out—including by the Secretary of State and in Committee—that the only real restraint left on the Secretary of State is the duty to act reasonably and the fact that they can be challenged under common law. If we ask why this is happening, the main reason is that we are all identifying poor and mediocre education which, it has been argued, requires immediate action. No day should be wasted as it is precious time that pupils will not get again. There is no dispute about that, but immediate remedial action is not the same as immediate academisation, and that is where the Government appear confused.
It is indisputable—I do not think anybody disagrees—that academisation is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for progress, and as has been agreed across the House, some academy chains are not very good. Some schools get better and improve significantly through effective LEA or diocesan intervention, or some process other than academisation, and many examples were mentioned by those on the Opposition Front Benches.
The Government must be asked why they are such a one-club golfer. One plausible argument might be that despite there being other remedies, the academy route is simply the more probable, or probably effective, way of addressing coasting or failing schools. That is an arguable case if we are going to go by the evidence, but I see no evidence that the Government want to do that. The Prime Minister and the top of the Government give us targets and goals for turning ever more schools into academies, regardless of whether that is appropriate: it must happen.
Let us suppose that we are going to decide policy on the basis of evidence, and that ideology and prejudice will have no serious influence. Nobody—I am sure the Chair of the Education Committee will agree—would dispute that all educational research shows that the biggest factor that influences children’s outcomes and their overall educational destiny is the involvement, support and participation of their parents. If the level of consultation, communication and participation declines, it is not only regrettable but, as evidence shows, unproductive. The Government have a case to answer there.
I turn briefly to amendment 11, on grammar schools, tabled by Mr Brady. I went to three grammar schools, two of which were founded round about 1550, and for part of my education I went to the same grammar school as the Minister—Maidstone grammar school in Kent. He started his secondary education there; I finished mine. I have read that he applauds it for its rigor. I have to say it was not always rigorous when I was there. I was taught by a head of French who was going deaf, and bright boys in L stream, as it was called, were encouraged to give up science as quickly as possible in order to concentrate on arts subjects, if that was their bent, so there was evidence of occasional coasting there.
I will not dispute, however, that grammar schools have had an impact on social mobility among the pupils attending them, and I will not dispute that they perform well on all evidential bases. I have another experience, however, apart from the one I share with the Minister. I started my teaching career in a secondary modern in Bootle which, one year after I started, merged with Bootle grammar school and became a comprehensive school. I taught mixed classes of ex-grammar school pupils and ex-secondary modern school pupils, and I honestly could not always tell the difference in terms of their ability and potential.
In the years before, however, pupils who went to the secondary modern, as opposed to the grammar school, had very different outcomes and saw themselves quite differently. When the comprehensive developed into a high school, it was not an immediate success, as much had been unpicked, and I learned that restructuring was not always wise—when something works in an educational environment, it is best to leave it in place. I am therefore actually pretty agnostic about structures, and I have extensive experience of almost every kind of structure, having also taught for a long period in an independent school. There is good and bad in all types of school. What is crucial in any type of school are leadership, morale and parental support.
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman on that last point, as I am sure would most Members who take an interest in education, but may I bring him to the precise point of the amendment? As an agnostic on structures, does he accept that if the population distribution changes in an area that is selective, an additional grammar might be needed to maintain the existing balance of selection and not drive existing grammar schools to become more selective?
I will consider the hon. Gentleman’s comments carefully. I am certainly happy with the idea of local decision making—I just wish the Government were more comfortable with it—and I think that we as politicians can do little to improve the educational landscape. We can change structures all the time, but they are not what makes a substantial difference: what makes a difference are the things that we normally cannot control or create but which, if we introduce the wrong kind of legislation, we can certainly frustrate.
We need to make a wealth of important changes to the Bill. It is a great honour to follow excellent contributions from hon. Members who are clearly passionate about educational standards. I do not doubt that the Government share that passion, but the problem is that none of the measures in the Bill will improve those standards. The Bill is based on an overriding assumption that academisation will automatically drive up standards and that the centralisation of power is the way to deliver it. Unfortunately, the Government have been simply unable to evidence that assumption at any stage of this Bill.
As such, the Bill before us today is a missed opportunity—a missed opportunity to address the profound teacher recruitment and retention crisis, which my hon. Friend Kevin Brennanoutlined, that is predicated on a demoralised, overstretched workforce and a burgeoning young population. It is a missed opportunity to drive up standards in academies where underperformance stubbornly persists—an issue that the Bill inexplicably excludes. It is a missed opportunity to put parents, teachers, assistants and the local school community at the heart of the agenda. That is why Labour Members were disappointed that the Minister refused to take up any of our sensible amendments in Committee, which would have demonstrated a cross-party willingness to drive up educational standards.
Let me explain the contrasting principles behind my new clauses 4 and 5. First, school improvement simply cannot take place without the consultation and involvement of parents, teachers and the school community. Secondly, we must strengthen the accountability system that is, even in its current form, all too lacking, particularly for academy chains.
New clause 5 would place a new duty on the chief inspector of Ofsted to inspect the overall performance of any academy chain to ascertain whether it is carrying out its functions appropriately; and it would give the Secretary of State power to direct the chief inspector to inspect any academy chain and specify which areas need inspecting. That is particularly important for financial stability, where several academy chains such as E-ACT have come unstuck. The new clause, supported by the chief inspector of Ofsted, will go some way towards opening up the accountability system for academy sponsors, which has not caught up with the rapid expansion of academies generally.
The speed at which schools converted into academies or joined multi-academy trusts has increased at a dramatic rate over the past three years. In 2012-13, the Department opened three times as many sponsored academies as in 2011-12, and by December 2014, 3,062 schools had converted to academy status—far in excess of expectations. This, of course, will continue apace under the Bill, as regional school commissioners scrabble to find sponsors in pursuit of centrally set targets.
It is therefore reasonable for systems of accountability to keep pace. That is all the more important because, as we have heard, performance levels among chains still suffer from significant variation. The Sutton Trust concluded in its recent report that the very poor results for pupils of some chains are of urgent concern. These concerns are about what happens not just in the classroom, but in the boardroom. The National Audit Office warned that the inability of Ofsted to inspect academy chains means that there is no independent source of information about the quality of their work, and called on the Government to ensure that the Department has an independent source of information for assessing the quality, capacity and performance of academy sponsors.
The lack of accountability and oversight by an independent body has its consequences—finance, audit and governance systems will suffer without rigorous independent inspections, and in some cases may not exist at all. In particular, the funding arrangements have been found to be open to abuse and conflicts of interests.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Our hon. Friend Pat Glass touched earlier on the issue of transparency. Are you aware of the school in my constituency—the Hewett school, a local authority school—that was handed over to an academy chain called the Inspiration Trust by ministerial fiat against the wishes of the community and the parents of that school? One problem we have with the Inspiration Trust is that it refuses to publish the individual accounts of individual schools. Instead, it simply publishes very basic group accounts. I think there is a concern about conflicts of interests, which are not being highlighted in the way we would like. Will your new clause be able to challenge that and do something about it?
The Institute of Education reported on the case of the Academy Enterprise Trust, a chain of some 80 academies, which paid nearly £500,000 into the private business interests of trustees and executives, with the payments ranging from project management to consultancy. In all cases, the services had not been put out to competitive tender and the AET’s accounts demonstrated a serious budget deficit.
The small network of individuals who operate the relatively small network of academy chains act with little oversight or accountability from an independent body. That has harmed, and will continue to harm, the decision-making process. As my hon. Friend Pat Glass mentioned earlier, the Select Committee on Education has said that the funding arrangements lack transparency, because the Education Funding Agency acts as both a regulator and funder, and that they are heavily politicised and prone to favouritism. The report went on to conclude that civil servants in the EFA have become highly politicised and that schools may be given preferential treatment, leaving the EFA itself wide open to conflicts of interest. That is in the context, as we have heard, of an accountability system that goes back directly to the Secretary of State’s using private contract law rather than public law and parliamentary accountability, as applies to maintained schools.
Given that background, it is important to raise another concern: the very widespread involvement of Conservative party donors in a number of academy chains. Indeed, four of the top 12 largest academy chains have links to the Conservative party through donations. David Ross, for instance, has donated over £250,000 to the Conservative party. He runs the David Ross Foundation which has 30 academies, incorporating primary, secondary, grammar and special schools, and is looking to take over more, especially if the Bill goes through. Alan Lewis, a major Conservative donor and vice-chair of Conservatives for Business, was also initially listed as a chairman of the
Kings Science Academy, before that information disappeared from the public domain. The academy chain mentioned by my hon. Friend Clive Lewis is run by another Conservative party donor, Theodore Agnew. The trust is looking actively—some would argue aggressively—to take over more schools. Without rehearsing arguments for a different debate, it would be fair to say that there are serious local concerns about its accountability, particularly in reference to Ofsted.
Is the hon. Lady seriously criticising these individuals, who are looking to assist in the education of young people, just because they are Conservative party members? If she is, I think this debate has got to a very sad state. I thought, when we were members of the Public Bill Committee, that both our parties were looking to further education opportunities for young people, not simply make cheap party political jibes and pot shots.
The Minister made the same point in Committee when I was raising these issues then. This is not an issue of Conservative party membership; this is an issue of transparency and serious conflicts of interest that have been raised by the cross-party Education Committee. It is not a cheap party political jibe, but one that has been seriously raised about parliamentary accountability and transparency, something Conservative Members are supposedly in favour of.
The Harris chain is particularly relevant, because it has sometimes been chosen as a sponsor by the Department against the wishes of staff, parents, and communities who have preferred other high-performing local options. That brings me to the Minister’s colleague, Lord Nash, who is another Conservative donor. He sits not only in the other place, but in the Department as Minister for Academies, where he is involved in choosing sponsors despite having been involved in specific academy chains. Frankly, there have been suspicions of political favouritism and intervention in these choices, and there are too few safeguards against them.
The vast majority of academy trusts are staffed by people working hard to address educational underperformance, but it is appropriate to ask, as the Education Committee did, what processes the Minister has in place to guard against certain trusts being given preferential treatment if, as we expect, the Government refuse to allow independent scrutiny. Indeed, the Clarke report, following the so-called Trojan horse affair, made a number of very significant recommendations which it appears the Government have yet to implement fully. Recommendation 7 stated that the Department for Education should consider urgently how best to capture local concerns driving the conversion process and review the brokerage system through which schools are matched with academy sponsors to ensure that the process is transparent and understood by all parties. The Government have previously claimed that all the recommendations have been implemented, but perhaps the Minister could comment on how the Bill fulfils them. What we are hearing from education professionals is that in some cases school leaders will go to the Department with recommendations for a preferred sponsor for their school, only to be overruled by the Department.
That brings me to new clause 4, which is intended to put the voices of parents and the local community at the centre of any decision to choose the identity of an academy sponsor. Apart from questions about the principle and pace of the academy programme, there will be questions about the identity, values and track record of particular academy sponsors for particular schools. Labour Members simply do not understand what the Government have to fear from the voices of parents, teachers, governors and support staff. We consult those groups constantly, and we value their input extremely highly. Indeed, the head of the National Association of Head Teachers argued, very wisely, in a blog ahead of today’s debate, that
“removing the right to consultation and engagement with local communities, in my experience, tends to alienate and promote opposition where previously the local community was neutral.”
As we know, the academic evidence shows that when there is parental support for and buy-in to a school, the results of that school are often better. What we are seeing from the Government, however—whether we are talking about the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, the Trade Union Bill or this Bill—is a sustained Tory assault on democracy and free speech, on the very anniversary of Magna Carta. I have to say that it fills me with dread.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Communication and consultation can only be positive, and significantly improve the process of schools’ conversion to academy status.
There is another perfectly legitimate reason why parents have a right to be involved in the decision. As we have heard, there is a stark variation between the performances of academy chains. Parents, teachers, local authorities and the school community could be handing a school over to a chain that might perform markedly worse than the existing maintained school.
In a report that is as detailed and comprehensive as any could be found, the much-respected Sutton Trust demonstrated that sponsored academies are twice as likely to be below the floor standards as other mainstream schools. Half the chains examined by the trust did less well than the mainstream school average. Indeed, in 2014, 44% of the academies in the analysis group covered in the report were below the Government’s new “coasting level”.
Our education system must be a collaborative effort between parents, pupils and schools, and Labour Members believe that it is the right of parents to have a substantial say in how their children are educated. The Conservative Education Act 1996 set out in law the general principle that
“pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents”.
That has been a principle in law since school attendance became compulsory more than a century ago.
It is strange that the Government’s talk of localism and involving service users in decisions does not apply to schools. After the election, the Chancellor of the Exchequer remarked in a speech on devolution that “the old model” of running things from London
“made people feel remote from the decisions that affect their lives. It’s not good for our prosperity or for our democracy.”
He will find some agreement among Members on both sides of the House on that general point, but perhaps the Education Secretary failed to get the memo, as she removed the right of parents and the local school community to have a say in the future of their schools. I ask once again, why are the Government so afraid of the voices of parents and the school communities?
My new clause would go a small way towards repairing the democratic deficit that is opening up as a result of a Bill that puts too much power in the hands of the Secretary of State, and far too little in the hands of our school communities.
I have already paid tribute to my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan; let me now extend my thanks to the Schools Minister, who sat opposite me for the many weeks of the Committee stage, and took my interventions very graciously during that period despite my frequent fumbling breaches of protocol.
No one, in Committee or today, has disputed the need to challenge coasting in any school—least of all me, because I went to a school which, by today’s standards, could be deemed to have been coasting. I left with very few qualifications, and, at the age of 25, I had to return to the same state secondary school and take my exams again. I spent a year in a secondary school as a 25-year-old. Anyone who has done that—spent a year with teenagers as a 25-year-old, and had the experience of going through education for the second time—will never, ever allow any other person to go through the same thing, or allow any other person to leave school without the right qualifications. It seems an irony that the school I left and had to return to is in the constituency of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, because the Minister for Schools is the MP for that constituency. This has therefore come full circle now, and I hope that what was Felpham comprehensive school—I do not know what it is called now, but I presume Felpham community college—is doing much better today than it was doing then.
Nobody disputes the need to tackle coasting wherever it is, least of all me, and nobody disputes that academies are the answer in some cases, but only the Government think they are always the answer. That is the nub of why I support new clause 1.
The Government could not produce a single witness in the witness stage of the Bill to say conversion to an academy was always the answer to coasting. In fact their star witness, Sir Daniel Moynihan, a remarkable man who set up and is chief executive of a fantastic organisation, the Harris Federation, was asked directly by me whether he thought academisation is the only response to coasting. His answer was simple: “No,” and he went on to explain why in more detail.
The sum of that, of the experience there has been, and of the evidence given in writing and in person by experts is that academisation is one tool of many, and is not the only tool. I should make a declaration here: I am chair of governors of an academy that has fundamentally transformed the ability of young people to go through education successfully with fantastic outcomes.
My second point is that the regulatory framework that will underpin schooling as a consequence of this Bill is confused and complicated. Given this Government’s philosophical approach to deregulation, it is extraordinary that schools from different sectors—state maintained, academies and the private sector—are all regulated in different ways. This is absurd and it is becoming a regulatory nightmare which will produce some real absurdities.
For example, as a consequence of this Bill, a school could in future be rated as outstanding by Ofsted yet the Department for Education could deem it as coasting. What are parents going to make of this new world? How will they decide where to send their children?
We will have a regulatory framework where academies that are deemed to be coasting by every other measure are not allowed to be converted to another status. The Bill focuses on organisational status as opposed to what we now know works: a focus on standards and educational outcomes. All the international evidence throughout the world shows that a focus on standards is what drives up educational outcomes, yet this Bill completely ignores all that evidence. It is turning into an ideological Bill, which I fundamentally oppose.
It is extraordinary that someone who comes from my background and has been involved in the conversion from local authority-maintained schools to academies should stand here in such opposition to a Bill that refers to academies.
This has been a short, but high-quality, debate, with excellent contributions from Members on both sides of the House.
The Bill is the next step in this Government’s drive to change our education system so that every child, from whatever background and in every part of the country, receives the standard of education they need to succeed in a demanding and competitive world, and where every local school is a good school. The Bill builds on the sponsored academies programme, designed to tackle underperformance through new leadership and governance. It builds on the converter academy programme, designed to liberate highly successful state schools to allow them to flourish and spread their proven formula to other schools. It builds on the free schools programme, designed to encourage innovation and provide a break with failed education orthodoxies.
The Bill also builds on our reforms to the curriculum, pushing up academic standards in English, maths and science in primary schools, our reforms to the teaching of reading and our reforms to GCSEs and A-levels, putting those qualifications on a par with the best in the world. It builds on the measures we have introduced to improve school attendance, to raise the standard of behaviour and to improve the quality of teacher training. All these reforms have been designed to change our schools system so that every child can benefit from a great education. In short, the Bill is about social justice. That is why it now addresses not only failing schools but coasting schools.
In the Minister’s list of Government policies, he omitted to mention the policy on free school meals. Will he put on record the Government’s commitment to that policy over the course of this Parliament, as set out in his party’s manifesto?
The hon. Gentleman will know what we achieved in the last Parliament. He will hear later, when the spending review is completed, what we can commit to in the next few years, not only on that issue but on a whole of range of issues across Whitehall that we have to look at in great detail.
A coasting school is one that is not consistently ensuring that children reach their potential. Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State the power to define which schools will be deemed to be coasting and therefore eligible for intervention. To assist scrutiny of the clause, we have already published draft regulations setting out our proposed definition. They provide a clear and transparent data-based definition, based on a school’s performance data over three years, rather than on a single Ofsted judgment or a snapshot of a single year’s results. Our proposed definition of a coasting school will be based on the new accountability system that comes into place from 2016, but it will be 2018 by the time three years’ data are available under the new system. We do not think it acceptable to wait so long before acting on coasting schools so we have also proposed interim measures for 2014 and 2015, based on existing metrics, so that regional schools commissioners can start to take action in 2016.
New clause 1, tabled by the hon. Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), proposes an alternative approach to identifying and addressing schools that fail to ensure children reach their potential. Subsections (1) and (2) of the new clause propose to set out in legislation a new definition and put the decision about which schools are to be regarded as coasting in the hands of Ofsted and the local authority. This would remove all transparency for schools about what would constitute coasting, meaning that a school would have no certainty about whether it might be deemed to be coasting. The new clause proposes an opaque, confusing approach to the definition of a coasting school, in contrast to the clear definition that we have set out in draft regulations.
Subsection (3) of the new clause includes a number of factors that Ofsted would be required to take into account, such as the availability of teachers in the area, the number of pupils, the reliability of performance data, the socio-economic challenges and the gender balance of the pupil population of the school. I am not sure that those factors should be explicitly set out in primary legislation, because to do so would restrict the ability to respond appropriately and flexibly to the individual circumstances of a school. Regional schools commissioners will of course take into account the challenges a school faces from its intake, along with other issues, when they assess a school’s performance.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West cited a number of examples of maintained Catholic schools in Bexley that had improved their Ofsted rating without becoming sponsored academies, but he omitted to say that seven Catholic primary schools in the borough had expressed an interest in converting, including St Joseph’s, the school that he cited as previously having been judged inadequate. Both the Catholic secondary schools in the borough are already academies, including St Catherine’s, the school that he cited as providing effective support for improving the quality of the education at St Joseph’s.
Where a school does fall within the coasting definition, the regional schools commissioner’s first task will be to see whether the school has the capacity itself to raise standards. In some cases, the school’s own leadership, perhaps a recently appointed new headteacher, may have an effective plan to raise standards. In other cases, more support will be needed. Coasting schools will be able to work with other experienced headteachers, with national leaders of education, with stronger schools in the area and with other relevant experts to raise standards.
The whole House is. I am just representing the views of my constituents, which is why I am sent here.
The Minister puts great faith in the role of regional schools commissioners. A number of my local schools in Stoke-on-Trent are in special measures and require improvement. They are not at the coasting stage; things are much more serious than that. The regional schools commissioner has failed to help to improve those schools, so why does the Minister think the RSCs will be able to sort out coasting schools, given that at the moment they cannot even sort out schools that require improvement or are in special measures?
Of course the RSCs have been established only recently, and already 60% of all secondary schools in the country have become academies and an increasing number of primary schools are now academies. The transformation of schools from the maintained sector into academisation has been phenomenally rapid. We are now moving a step further forward to ensuring that we do not just tackle failing schools. If this Bill gets through this House—I hope the hon. Gentleman will support it this evening—any failing school, including any school in his constituency that is in special measures, will automatically become an academy, have new leadership and have new sponsorship, driving forward higher standards in that school. He should be supporting the measure.
Having said that, academisation will not always be the default solution for coasting schools, because where it is clear that the existing leadership does have the capacity to improve, they will be given the support and backing to do just that. But having the discretion to make an academy order is important, even for coasting schools, as a backstop provision.
I could cite many examples where becoming a sponsored academy has helped to improve academic standards, but let me highlight just one. In January 2014, Our Lady and St Bede Roman Catholic secondary school in Stockton-on-Tees was judged as requiring improvement by Ofsted. It became an academy sponsored by the Carmel Education Trust. In 2014, only 54% of pupils achieved five or more A* to C GCSEs including English and maths. Under the new sponsorship the headteacher has reported that that figure has risen to 72% this year; which is an increase on last year of 18 percentage points in just 12 months.
I am grateful to the Minister for his work in Committee, where I served, alongside other colleagues in the House. Does he agree that we see that the Opposition’s challenge that this is not an evidence-based policy simply does not stack up when we look at the example he has cited and at academy sponsor trusts such as REAch2, Applegarth, STEP Academy Trust, WISE Academies, which have achieved astonishing turnarounds in a short time? Is this policy not just speeding up what works best?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that, and I was grateful for her involvement in, and contribution to, our deliberations in Committee. She knows what she is talking about, because she is chair at an extraordinary academy trust, the Michaela community school in Wembley, which was established by the formidable Katherine Birbalsingh. It is now into its second year and I recommend a visit to that school to any hon. Member who is interested in education. They will see a school that serves one of the most deprived parts of London delivering education of a quality that will astonish them. It is an astonishingly good school, and I am looking forward to its first set of GCSE results in three or four years’ time.
During the evidence session, Suella Fernandes put the same question to Emma Knights from the National Governors Association. She got this response from an expert who studies this matter day in, day out.
“The main bit of evidence was produced by the National Audit Office last year and it showed that 60% of schools deemed inadequate did improve without any sort of formal intervention because they had exactly that: a school improvement plan, and that worked in 60% of cases. Sponsored academisation worked in 44% of cases”.––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee,
I thank the hon. Lady for allowing me to point that out and to add to her experience and also to make worthwhile the night that I spent putting tabs on to my evidence session notes.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention on my hon. Friend Suella Fernandes via me, but I am delighted to respond. Of course sponsored academies are taking on some of the most challenging schools in the country. Where schools are coasting, we want them to do everything they can with the current leadership to improve, but there must be a fast-track method for dealing with schools that have been put into special measures. Our manifesto was very clear that we wanted to ensure swift, consistent action from day one in every failing school. When a school is failing, it needs, as my hon. Friend Neil Carmichael, who is the Chair of the Education Committee said, strong leadership and effective governance to ensure rapid improvements, which is delivered by academy sponsorship. That is why clause 7 places a duty on the Secretary of State to make an academy order for any maintained school that Ofsted has rated inadequate.
Sponsored academies have been hugely successful in raising standards in what were failing schools. In 2015, primary sponsored academies open for just one academic year have improved by five percentage points—from 66% to 71%—the number of children achieving the expected level in reading, writing and maths. Those open for more than two years have seen their results improve by 10 percentage points since opening. The proportion of pupils that gained five good GCSEs including English and maths was, on average, 6.4 percentage points higher in sponsored secondary academies that had been open for four years in 2014 than in their predecessor schools. Those are remarkable achievements for some of the most challenging schools in the country.
Will the Minister give the House the figures for maintained schools that have used some of the alternative school improvement approaches that I have outlined and that started off on the same level of achievement as the schools that were converted to academies that he has just quoted? In that way, we can make a proper evidential comparison.
As I said in Committee, these figures are significantly higher than the school system as a whole, which shows that these schools are raising standards. I can give some examples. Individual schools across the country have benefited from becoming sponsored academies. For example, Bramford primary school, which Ofsted placed in special measures in 2012, but which, having joined Griffin Schools Trust in 2013, has made huge improvements. In April 2015, Ofsted judged the school to be good, with Ofsted attributing that to the sponsor trust’s “good leadership and management.”
Peter Kyle quoted Sir Dan Moynihan and his evidence to our proceedings, but he did not quote him when he said:
“Local authorities often do not use the freedoms that they have. There is nothing that we have done in any of our schools that were failing that a local authority could not have done. In every case, the local authority simply did not do it and it had to have someone else take it over and make it better.”––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee,
Those are the words of a highly successful chief executive of a highly successful academy chain.
When a school is failing, we need the academy conversion process to be swift. Every day’s delay is a day of weak education for the pupils at a failing school, which was acknowledged by John Pugh in his contribution to our debate.
It is because for too long they have been languishing as underperforming schools. The authorities and governing bodies that were overseeing them have had their opportunity to improve them over many years. We feel that pupils should not have to waste a single day more in those schools. They need new leadership and new governance, and they need them now.
That is why clause 8 removes the requirement for consultation by a school’s governing body or the proposed sponsor on whether a school should become an academy, in circumstances where the school is judged inadequate by Ofsted or where other interventions have failed to raise standards. That is why clauses 10 and 11 ensure that the local authority and the governing body of a failing school co-operate and help with the conversion process. We have seen too many instances of deliberate procrastination by people ideologically hostile to the academies programme.
Does the Minister share my concern that schools that wish to convert to academy status, such as Bromley Pensnett school in my
constituency, are finding a series of obstacles being put in their way by the local authority? Will he ensure that the Bill stops local authorities blocking the improvements that are urgently needed to turn around the schools that need the most support?
Where a school is failing, all those blockages will be removed by the provisions in the Bill. Where a school is good and wants to convert to academy status—the governing body wants the freedom to help the school not only to flourish itself, but to start helping other schools—I am afraid that the Bill still requires consultation with the community, because we think that is the right approach.
The Bill recognises that in limited cases there is a need to consult on the future sponsor for schools that are eligible for intervention. In the case of foundation or voluntary aided schools judged inadequate by Ofsted, clause 9 ensures that the Secretary of State must consult the trustees, the foundation and, for religious schools, the appropriate religious body about the identity of the sponsor proposed by the Secretary of State. In the case of a church school, a diocesan or church school-led multi-academy trust will be the solution in the vast majority of cases.
The Government are firmly committed to enabling diocese and church schools to protect and sustain their ethos. For example, where a Church of England diocese lacks the capacity to sponsor a school at the time it needs support, we may, with the involvement of the diocesan board of education, look to a non-church sponsor. In such situations we will ensure that the arrangements that the sponsor enters into will safeguard the religious character and ethos of the school. We will continue to work closely with the Churches on appropriate arrangements. I am grateful to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend Mrs Spelman, for our discussions on that issue.
Many of the Opposition’s amendments attempt to introduce what I believe to be unnecessary consultations, appeals and processes. Our manifesto was clear that we would be unwavering and swift in tackling failing schools and ensuring an excellent education for all children. By contrast, the amendments would serve only to aid the delaying tactics and obstruction that some ideological opponents of academies attempt to pursue—I assume that is now the whole Labour party, or at least the members who paid £3 to join and now control it.
I turn now to amendment 11, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Brady and other right hon. and hon. Friends. It would give the Secretary of State two new powers to extend academic selection. First, when a failing school became an academy under clause 7, the Secretary of State would have an additional power to allow the school, and therefore also the new academy, to select its pupils on the basis of ability, if requested to do so by a local authority or admission forum. Secondly, the amendment proposes to give the Secretary of State the power to make an order allowing selective arrangements in any maintained school, when requested to do so by the relevant local authority or admission forum. It does so by amending section 104 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which currently prohibits selective grammar schools unless they were already selective before 1997.
Grammar schools have made a remarkable and sustained contribution to education in this country. They provide an exceptional education to their pupils. In 2014, 96.8% of pupils in the 163 grammar schools achieved an average of at least five GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and mathematics, and 87% of pupils at grammar schools were entered for a foreign language GCSE. This strong academic ethos—a rigorous curriculum and the highest expectations for every child—has been at the heart of the Government’s reforms. Harold Wilson hoped that a comprehensive education system would create a “grammar school for all”, but as Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has pointed out, the reality was quite different. Several of the grammar schools converted into comprehensives suffered a precipitous decline in standards and, in many cases, a rejection of the value of a strong academic education.
The whole thrust of our education reforms is a determination to ensure that every school delivers the type and standard of education found in the 163 grammar schools. That is why we introduced a new national curriculum, which is more knowledge based and academically rigorous. The new primary curriculum is designed to ensure that every pupil is ready for a more demanding secondary education. For example, pupils are now expected to master times tables to 12 x 12 by the end of year 4, instead of to 10 x 10 by the end of year 6. Punctuation, grammar and spelling are now explicitly taught and tested, and dictation—the art of writing practice—is now part of the statutory national curriculum.
We are reforming GCSEs and A-levels. The new GCSEs are more demanding, and are no longer modular—all exams are taken at the end of a two-year course. Several of these new qualifications are being taught for the first time in schools this academic year. The new maths GCSE places greater emphasis on mathematical fluency and deep understanding, and includes new content to improve progression to A-level—on, for example, rates of change and quadratic functions. For GCSE English literature, pupils will now be required to study a broader range of texts, including at least one Shakespeare play in full and a 19th-century novel. The new history A-level will require students to study topics from a period of at least 200 years. The new science A-level includes strengthened mathematical and quantitative content—for example, understanding standard deviation in biology and the concepts underlying calculus in physics.
In the previous Parliament, we introduced the English baccalaureate performance measure, showing the proportion of pupils in a school entering and achieving a good GCSE in English, maths, science, history or geography, and a foreign language. The result has been a substantial increase in the proportion of young people taking these core academic subjects, from 23% in 2012 to 39% last year. We are going further, with this September’s new year 7 the first to be required to study the full combination of EBacc subjects to GCSE.
I shall come to that, if the hon. Gentleman will be patient.
The academies programme is delivering autonomy and freedom from control by local bureaucrats, delivering the change that will help to ensure that the promise of a “grammar school for all” can be delivered. I hope my hon. Friends supporting the amendment are assured that the Government share their commitment to ensuring that opportunity is more widely shared, and that every young person has the academic education they need to fulfil their potential. I believe that this commitment is best delivered by turning around failing schools more swiftly, and making sure that schools that are coasting take urgent action to improve. When combined with our reforms to qualifications and the curriculum, which challenge long-held orthodoxies peddled by the education establishment in the local authorities and university education faculties, I believe these reforms will play a significant role in restoring academic standards, which is what I know my hon. Friends would like to see.
The amendment also proposes to allow the Secretary of State to make an order that any maintained school could become selective, when requested to do so by the local authority or admission forum. I warmly support grammar schools that seek to extend their reach and their capacity by sponsoring other schools and increasing the number of pupils they teach. In the previous Parliament we changed the rules to give schools, including grammar schools, greater flexibility to expand to meet parental demand. As a result, there has been no fall in the proportion of young people in grammar schools under this Government.
Some of the amendments seek to challenge or alter our entire oversight and accountability framework. New clause 2 seeks to alter the accountability and mechanism of the appointment of regional schools commissioners by making them appointees of combined authorities or elected mayors, but the current regional schools commissioners model is working; they are well embedded in their regions and the lines of accountability are clear.
Will the Minister respond to my request for an assurance that there will still be opportunities for continued collaboration and partnership? We heard about the good example of the London challenge, and the Liverpool challenge is coming soon. The Enfield challenge worked because the rapid recovery group involved the excellence that was on its doorstep to ensure that there was rapid improvement.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We want schools to improve, including coasting schools, and we want them to use every method to do so. We want local authorities to use every tool in their toolkit to improve schools under their jurisdiction, and we will encourage and help them to do so. However, when they fail and schools go into special measures, time is up and it is time to take a new direction. If schools are academies, we encourage collaboration between them and maintained schools. We encourage collaboration between academy chains and other academy chains, and within multi-academy trusts.
This is an important Bill that takes our reform programme to the next level to tackle not just failing schools but coasting schools—the complacent schools that for years believed they were doing well enough but in reality were failing to ensure that every child was reaching his or her full potential. If hon. Members have high expectations for every child in this country, I hope they will give the Government the flexibility we seek to take swift action to tackle failure and to address mediocrity. The amendments tabled by the Opposition would hinder that flexibility. I therefore ask Members to withdraw their amendments or, failing that, the House to reject them resoundingly.
I note that the Minister did not respond to my intervention about amendment 11, tabled by Mr Brady, when I asked whether it is still the Government’s policy to permit further expansion of grammar schools. The Minister tried to hide that in the smokescreen of a discussion about the expansion of the current grammar school sector rather than whether the Government have changed their policy on allowing new grammar schools, which was the whole point of the amendment.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.